CHICAGO (Reuters) – Most children are told to stay away from chewy candies to keep their teeth cavity-free, but children in Venezuela who ate a special cavity-fighting candy had 62 percent fewer cavities than those who brushed their teeth regularly, researchers said on Tuesday.

Children in the study were testing the effectiveness of BasicMints, an experimental fluoride-free treatment designed to mimic a component in human saliva that neutralizes acids in the mouth that can erode tooth enamel.

Researchers at Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine, who developed the active compound in the mints known as CaviStat, tested them in 200 children in Venezuela aged 10 1/2 to 11 who were getting their adult molars but still had some baby teeth left.

Half the children in the study took two of the medicated mints in the morning after brushing with a fluoride toothpaste. They followed the same routine at night. The other half brushed normally twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and took plain sugarless mints.

After 12 months, children who took the cavity-fighting mints had 61.7 percent fewer cavities than the placebo group.

The soft mints are designed to be dissolved and chewed into the biting surfaces of the back teeth, where about 90 percent of cavities in children occur.

"Unlike regular candies, we want this product to be stuck in the teeth," said Mitchell Goldberg, president of Ortek Therapeutics Inc, a privately held company in Roslyn Heights, New York, that licensed the technology from Stony Brook. 

Goldberg said in a telephone interview that unlike sugarless gum, which fights cavities by temporarily increasing the flow of saliva in the mouth, the mints actively neutralize acids that cause cavities.

He said the company plans to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to begin testing the product in the United States by year end. It may take several years of testing before it wins U.S. marketing approval.

The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Clinical Dentistry.